March 10, 2009


Citizenism, Inconvenient Truths, & Examined Life

I advocate what I call “€˜citizenism“€™ as a functional, yet idealistic, alternative to the special-interest abuses of multiculturalism. Citizenism calls upon Americans to favor the well-being, even at some cost to ourselves, of our current fellow citizens over that of foreigners and internal factions. Among American citizens, it calls for individuals to be treated equally by the state, no matter what their race.

The citizenist sees little need for politically correct racial browbeating. Today’s omnipresent demand to lie about social realities in the name of ‘celebrating diversity’ becomes ethically irrelevant under citizenism, where the duty toward patriotic solidarity means that the old saying ‘he’s a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch’ turns into a moral precept.

That is Steve Sailer in his recent book America’s Half-Blood Prince:  Barack Obama’s “Story of Race and Inheritance”. Probably most Takimag readers have heard of Steve (and his blog). Most, I’d guess, have read a couple of his pieces. Who is the guy? How did he come to write a book about Obama? Will citizenism catch on?

To speak first of the book:  It is a convention of the book business that if you have once blurbed a book (that is, been quoted on the book’s cover offering words of praise), it is ill-mannered to then do a full-dress review. What follows is therefore not a review of America’s Half-Blood Prince. I am only going to use some of Steve’s observations in the book, and elsewhere, as starting points for commentary on the topics in my title up there above.

To formally review America’s Half-Blood Prince would in any case be an odd sort of exercise, since the book is itself a sort of very extended book review. When, late in 2006, it first seemed probable that Barack Obama was going to run for president, Steve did a careful reading of Obama’s introspective 1995 autobiography Dreams from My Father:  A Story of Race and Inheritance. In his subsequent writing about the presidential campaign, Steve drew extensively from Obama’s book, quoting the candidate’s own written words and parsing them in the context of external facts about Obama’s life and career. America’s Half-Blood Prince, which I am absolutely not reviewing here, is an organized compilation of Steve’s observations. Obama’s book is quoted on almost every page. So to review Steve’s book”€”which I am not going to do”€”would be to review an extraordinarily long and deep review of Obama’s book”€”a review of a review.

Dreams from My Father is, though, highly relevant to Steve’s larger concerns. What are those concerns, and how much of a relation to reality”€”the reality of life in the U.S.A., present and future”€”do they bear?

* *  *

Tuesday, March 4, was the tenth anniversary of the founding of the Human Bio-diversity discussion group. According to Yahoo, which hosts the group, H-Bd “consists of a small, elite, and eclectic mix of experts from across the scientific, intellectual, and political spectrums who civilly discuss the implications of human biodiversity (i.e., differences in race, sex, sexual orientation, etc.).”

The group was Steve Sailer’s idea, and he is still the group moderator today. I was a founding member of H-Bd. I’d like to tell you what my very first contribution to the group’s discussions was, but Yahoo refuses to let me reset my password, so I can’t get into the group archives. That is probably just as well, as I was considerably out of my depth in the more technical discussions when the group first started up.

The H-Bd group was in fact an education in biology for me. I’m more a math geek than a true science geek”€”keener on abstractions, straight lines, sixteen places of decimals, and rigorous demonstration than on the wet, smelly, wriggling, often ambiguous world of living matter. I had dropped high school biology after one year, the teacher”€”an irascible fellow whose thick Australian accent inspired us boys to masterpieces of mimicry”€”recorded my departure from the field with a curt “S” (for “Satisfactory”). Now here I was on the H-Bd list hobnobbing with tenured academics in genetics, anthropology, psychology, primatology, ethology, paleontology, and other subjects with which my acquaintance went no further than having read an occasional article in Scientific American. I did some deeper reading and got up to speed at last, to the point where I could follow the discussions, but it took a while.

It was a fascinating new world, and Steve’s having put human bio-diversity at the focus of it made for easy connection to some of the big social issues of our time.

Within-species diversity is the very essence of biology. The first two chapter headings in Darwin’s On the Origin of Species both begin with the word “variation.” The first observation one makes about any population of any species, above the level of the simplest life-forms, is that individual members of the population differ in characteristics”€” some larger, some smaller, some faster, some slower, and so on. Over time, as generation follows generation, the “menu” of variations in a population may change. What causes these changes? What rules govern the process? This is the basic stuff of evolutionary biology.

The interest of H-Bd was in hearing about the application of these fundamental principles to human affairs “€”everything from child-raising to Olympic medal tables, from gay rights to paleoanthropology, from interracial marriage to the prospects for the Republican Party. Individual H-Bd list members came and went, but an enterprise like that retains the essential shape of its founding spirit, and our discussion topics remained Sailerish. We are still waiting for the first H-Bd convention, to be held”€”we insist”€”on some Caribbean Island far from the madding crowd, but Steve keeps equivocating on the arrangements … so for the time being H-Bd remains a virtual community.

I can thus claim a better than average acquaintance with Steve and with Sailerism”€”including citizenism”€”so that although I am not going to review his book”€”that would be wrong“€”I am well placed to review the author and his ideas. Perhaps I should add that my acquaintance with Steve has not been totally virtual. He even on one occasion stayed overnight chez Derb, sleeping on the dusty floor of my then-unfinished attic. Shamed at the thought of the indignity I had inflicted on a fellow guerrilla, I’ve since made the attic very pleasant; but innumerable hints about this have failed to lure Steve back. Perhaps I’ll content myself with putting up a plaque like those you see on the walls of old houses in England:  STEVE SAILER SLEPT HERE, 2004.

* * *

Under what the late William F. Buckley, Jr. called “the prevailing structure of taboos,” some of the stuff we kick around on the H-Bd list, and some of what Steve blogs about at his own site and at VDARE, is outside the zone of polite discourse in mainstream-political circles. To the fiercer guardians of political correctness, in fact, Steve is a hate figure. The Southern Poverty Law Center has him under 24-hour watch (they call him “an unabashed bigot”), and transsexual websites have him marked as a leading transophobe, or whatever the term is.

(Having heterodox opinions about sexuality is an even faster route to Thought Criminal status than is race heresy. Steve’s 1997 National Review article “Is Love Colorblind,” exploring the odd discrepancies in interracial marriage numbers, added a large cohort of Asian males to the hate-Steve legions. The article noted that the percentage of white-black marriages featuring a black male is exactly the same”€”72 percent”€”as the percentage of white-Asian marriages featured a white male. That leaves society with disgruntled surpluses of black females and Asian males. It seems that neither group is much inclined to solve the problem in the obvious way. Asian males took Steve’s article as a slur on their manhood. Black females minded it much less, I don’t know why.)

How widely shared is Steve’s interest in human biodiversity? It is impossible to know, at any rate in the Western world. That “prevailing structure of taboos” has smothered the whole topic in a fog of hypocrisy, lies, and doublethink. Steve, writing in VDARE in 2002:

Despite all the talk about celebrating diversity, nobody these days is supposed to notice diversity. There is almost no way for the public to look up in a modern reference work what people of various geographic origins look like. There is a natural human curiosity about what people from around the globe look like. Yet organized ways to study this fascinating subject have largely been shut down. This important knowledge has become something you just have to pick up as you go through life … Many prominent scientists today … are far more ignorant about human biodiversity that their predecessors were. That’s not how science should work”€”knowledge is supposed to accumulate, not dissipate.

To judge from attitudes outside the zone of Western “diversity”-panic, I’d say that Steve is right about that “natural human curiosity.” I wish I had a dollar, or even just a renminbi, for every time a Chinese person in China has asked me, in a friendly spirit of earnest inquiry:  “Tell me, Mr. Derbyshire, why are Jews so clever?

When I began reading Steve’s articles and H-Bd group comments, I recognized a kindred spirit at once. That is to say, I recognized another science geek”€”a Person of Curiosity, who enjoys finding out how things work. As time went on I noticed another point of affinity: Steve had very little of the power urge, the desire to dominate others. There’s a lot of browbeating and one-upmanship on email discussion groups, even on quite lofty academic ones. There was some of that on the H-Bd list, but none from Steve.

The two things, science-geekiness and a feeble power urge, tend to travel together. If your delight is to figure out how the various parts of the universe are joined up, you are probably not very skillful at politics, in the broad sense”€”at elevating yourself while cowing and manipulating other people. Contrariwise, if your main pleasure in life comes from asserting yourself over your fellow men, you probably think that true facts about the world are of secondary interest, except insofar as they can further your plans for local hegemony.

Kinship of spirit aside, I found Steve an interesting study, a kind of intelligence I hadn’t encountered much before. A lot of his writing concerns lowbrow topics”€”sport, celebrities”€”not much in evidence in serious writings on science and culture. At the same time, he was an obvious datanaut, deft at squeezing some significance from a stack of figures. (I once heard Steve describe himself as “the only Republican that knows how to use Microsoft Excel,” which may very well be true.)

The second thing works back into the first as a mastery of sports statistics and a great memory for family and ancestral connections. If you want a quantitative study on how to pick a really good football quarterback, Steve’s your man. He’s also your man if you like being surprised to learn that a former Mexican foreign minister had a Russian-Jewish mother who worked for Stalin.

I once, in casual conversation with a geneticist acquaintance, wondered aloud whether, by gradual accumulation of personal DNA data, we might one day have a family tree for the entire human race. My acquaintance said not”€”“too much noise in the system””€”but I sometimes think Steve has cracked it and is carrying that universal family tree round in his head.

* * *

It was natural enough that when Barack Obama first came to national prominence, Steve would take a keen interest. The subtitle of Obama’s 1995 autobiography, “A story of race and inheritance,” screams out for the attentions of an H-Bd maven. Steve was one of the first people to read the book with care. Indeed, I don’t know of any other person I feel sure read it at all, with or without care. (For myself, I will say what Dr. Johnson used to say when unwilling to admit he hadn’t read a book all through with close attention: “I have looked into it …”) One of the most astonishing things about the 2008 election campaign was the utter absence, in public commentary, of any notice of Obama’s very detailed and revealing account of his own inner life.

Steve tried to supply the lack. His book (which of course I am not going to review) came out just before the November election, but the material in it had mostly appeared on the internet over the previous year and a half. In those articles, and now in America’s Half-Blood Prince, Steve has methodically chronicled, with relevant quotes from Obama’s book, all the reasons why this was a man that voters”€”most especially voters of a citizenist inclination”€”should take with many, many grains of salt.
Primed by this long and deep immersion in our intensely race-conscious president, Steve was well positioned to take on the mortgage and banking crisis of 2008. The ensuing recession was, he argued here and on VDARE, a “diversity recession,” with its origins in the debauching of lending standards under political pressure to expand minority home ownership.

The weird thing about the tumbling of the latest financial house of cards is that the cornerstone, such as it was, was confidence in the increasing ability of the bottom half of society to pay back unprecedentedly large debts.

As always with Steve, you weren’t just getting blowhard opinionating, you were getting data and quotes. Steve is a master at digging up the telling quote. George W. Bush on June 18, 2002:

The goal is, everybody who wants to own a home has got a shot at doing so. The problem is we have what we call a homeownership gap in America. Three-quarters of Anglos own their homes, and yet less than 50 percent of African Americans and Hispanics own homes … So I’ve set this goal for the country. We want 5.5 million more homeowners by 2010 … And so what are the barriers that we can deal with here in Washington? … Well, probably the single barrier to first-time homeownership is high down payments …

Get rid of those down payments so that black and Hispanic Americans can become homeownwers. Then before you know it they’ll be voting Republican! Brilliant! As Steve likes to say: What could possibly go wrong? I guess we all know the answer to that question by now.

* * *

For all his datanaut skills and rhetorical brilliance, Steve Sailer is out on the fringes of the conservative movement. Human kind cannot bear very much reality, observed T.S. Eliot.

I used to believe that people of a conservative temperament can bear more reality than most. How refreshing it was, in the late 1970s, to hear Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan say plainly and frankly what their political predecessors had hidden behind smokescreens of cant and wishful thinking: That government caused more problems than it solved, that the U.S.S.R. was a hideous tyranny, that nationhood was the guarantor of liberty, that old and unproductive industries had to die, that terrorists need killing, that wealth creators should be cherished over wealth-eaters, that citizens must shift for themselves, looking to public aid only as a last resort.

The triumphs of Reagan/Thatcher conservatism, though, left behind a conservative establishment that, once settled into comfortable, salaried dependence on wealthy donors or political patrons, proved unwilling to face the realities of the early 21st century multicultural West”€”as unwilling as their liberal predecessors had been to face the realities of industrial decline and advancing managerialism in the 1970s.

What Steve calls “Today’s omnipresent demand to lie about social realities in the name of ‘celebrating diversity’” is fully endorsed by mainstream conservatism, both in Britain and the U.S.A. The discord and rancor that inevitably accompany ethnic diversity are spoken of by mainstream conservatives in only the most careful, guarded terms. The slow ethnic disaggregation one sees all around, everywhere in the world”€”it is the most striking human phenomenon of our age“€”goes unmentioned. Mainstream conservatives are just as locked in to soothing myths and pleasant falsehoods as are liberals”€”the same myths and the same falsehoods, in many cases. There is no Reality Party. Perhaps the citizenry does not want one. Establishment elites most certainly don’t.

So there is Steve, out on the fringes of the tribe, tapping away good-naturedly at his keyboard, diving into the surf of data to emerge a while later holding up some little pearl of insight. “Look, look what I found!” Nobody much pays attention. Establishment conservatives chunter away about marginal tax rates, stem cells, school vouchers, and elections in Afghanistan, while deep beneath their feet the earth shifts and cracks.

Ah, well:

When all its work is done, the lie shall rot.
The truth is great, and shall prevail,
When none cares whether it prevail or not.

Keep at it, Steve. Crunch the data, dig up the quotes, show us how it all hangs together. There’s not much in it for you. We live surrounded by lies and pretense, like pygmies in tall grass. There’s no market for uncovered social truth. Just mind the day job, keep pegging away at those spreadsheets, and don’t ever let anything shatter what George Orwell”€”your great hero, and mine”€”called “the crystal spirit.”  Magna est veritas et prævalebit. And hey, guy”€”the attic is really cozy now!

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